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The math behind syncing fireflies

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Male fireflies flash their glowing bellies in impressive patterns to attract mates. Some species do this synchronously as a group. How do they manage it?

To answer this question, mathematicians at the University of Pittsburgh used a model commonly used to map brain cell activity. In this way, they first worked out the blinking behavior of one larva, then two and then an entire swarm. They examined the effect on the number of fireflies blinking, distance from each other and flight speed.

By flipping this knot, they can influence the model whether a firefly can see another firefly and determine how quickly they can interact with each other. This created spiral and wave patterns, similar to what was seen in nature in synchronizing firefly clusters.

They can also see that individual fireflies blink less uniformly than an entire swarm. The model can also be used to examine the influence of environmental factors on flicker. Think air pollution, or the time of day: both affect how well flies can see each other.

Read more: Mathematics Pete explains how some fireflies flash simultaneously.

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